DA slams government inaction over avian flu as concerns over lack of assistance to farmers mount

South Africa is facing an egg shortage due to an avian flu outbreak. Picture: Jacques Naude / African News Agency (ANA).

South Africa is facing an egg shortage due to an avian flu outbreak. Picture: Jacques Naude / African News Agency (ANA).

Published Oct 14, 2023


Johannesburg - Tensions are mounting between the DA and the government following the outbreak of the Avian Influenza, as the opposition party continues to accuse the government of dragging its feet and failing to assist the affected farmers.

Yesterday, the DA in Gauteng lodged its latest attack on the provincial and national government, urging them to speed up the process to procure vaccines to deal with the Influenza.

The DA's Gauteng Shadow MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development Bronwynn Engelbrecht made the disparaging accusations against the government, saying the alleged slow movement of government in dealing with the crisis could lead to massive job losses in the poultry industry.

Engelbrecht said her party had been engaging with poultry producers in Gauteng, and according to one of the top poultry producers, at least 50% of their production line had been lost due to the avian virus, saying, with 4500 employees, they were forced to retrench at least 50% of their workforce.

“Gauteng has been the hardest hit by the H7 strain of avian flu, which has led to a dire shortage of chicken and eggs across the country,” she said.

The latest figures from the South African Poultry Association indicate that at least 7.2 million chickens have been culled, and at least 11 million have been affected by the H7 avian virus. This is putting the jobs of at least 110 000 people employed by the poultry industry on the line,” Engelbrecht said.

She said many poultry farms were now standing empty, and workers employed on a no work, no-pay basis were severely affected.

“The DA calls on the Gauteng Provincial Government (GPG) to provide urgent assistance to the many poultry farmers affected by the H7 avian virus. Gauteng is the epicentre of the poultry industry, with thousands of employees facing potential retrenchments.

“In addition, the DA is eagerly awaiting the replies to our questions tabled in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature (GPL) to determine what assistance will be provided by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to our poultry farmers,” she said.

Earlier this week, Engelbrecht said National Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza, said the department had indicated their willingness to obtain vaccines abroad, using Section 21 of the Medicines Act to grant access to an unregistered medicine.

But Engelbrecht said that was used in emergencies where conventional therapies had been ruled out, have failed, or were unavailable as marketed products.

“Not all countries have vaccines for the virulent H7 virus, so it will be essential that the department ensures that countries with a tested H7 vaccine are urgently approached to save the poultry sector in South Africa,” Engelbrecht said.

She said the limited availability of eggs and chicken had already been experienced by consumers, resulting in a radical increase in prices for these products, saying that would affect other products and businesses further down the consumer line that depend on eggs and chicken meat for their end products.

“This outbreak has once again put food security in jeopardy and put the jobs of our residents who work in the industry on the line. We will continue to pressure the government to assist the poultry industry for the benefit of the Gauteng economy,” she said.

However, the government, despite the DA’s claims, indicated that they had been in talks with the poultry industry to consider vaccines against the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).

Reggie Ngcobo - the spokesperson for the department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development - told the media that the South African Poultry Industry had urgently requested that the vaccine approval be expedited and a clear timeline being provided to the industry.

Ngcobo said that vaccination against HPAI would be controlled by the government.

In his interview with Business Report, Ngcobo said: ‘’The vaccine will not be available for sale to the general public. Factors that must be taken into account include the safety and efficacy of the vaccine used, the biosecurity measures, surveillance and movement control required for approval of vaccination on farm level, the exit strategy, and how to deal with vaccinated farms that could potentially become HPAI infected,’’ he added.

Ngcobo said importing countries might insist on the submission of detailed documentation of the amended surveillance in vaccinated flocks to reliably exclude HPAI infection in such flocks, according to the additional World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) requirements for countries zones or compartments that practise vaccination.

So far, Namibia and Botswana have suspended the importation of poultry and poultry products from South Africa due to the outbreak of HPAI.